A Knight’s Tale

I turned 40 last week. I am now officially a MAMIL. To mark this milestone, I decided I wanted to do something big on the bike.

Everesting was my first choice. I’ve had two unsuccessful attempts before – both ending prematurely due to equipment failure – and the desire to finally get it done has been burning a hole in my head. So on Oct 24th I headed out bright and early towards Glenbrook Gorge in the Blue Mountains National Park, and the 11% 700m Glenbrook Gorge North Climb.

Successfully everesting this climb would take 107 repeats over maybe thirteen hours. I had a van full of water bottles and food, a few changes of kit and plenty of spares. I’d even gone and bought a new pair of Zipp 60 Carbon wheels just in case my trusty but slightly troublesome Zipp 30s gave up the ghost.

I was, you may say, prepared.

However the weather wasn’t exactly co-operating. Driving towards the mountains on the M4, the lower slopes of the plateau were lit up by lightning strikes, and I had an uneasy feeling. Sure, the outlook for the latter part of the day was pretty good, but there was more rain forecast mid-morning, and the sky was looking very much unsettled.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I parked up, got my wind vest on, prepped the bike and set out for a few exploratory repeats.

Which is where the plan started to unravel.

The descent into the gorge was wet and slippery. Worse, it had an oily sheen on the surface, so the descent very nervous indeed. I puzzled over this for a moment and came to the conclusion that runoff from the surrounding eucalypts must have been to blame for the oiliness. Riding up on the first lap was a bit of a strain but bearable, but the second descent was no less nervous than the first. The climb, at least, felt more comfortable than the first. I still wanted this to happen but with a cracked rib still an occasionally- painful reminder of a crash in late September, I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic. One more repeat and I was convinced – without the ability to go downhill fast I’d be losing valuable time, and worse, I’d be risking an injury on every single descent until dry road emerged sometime in the late morning. I don’t mind riding in the rain usually, but spending my 40th birthday waiting for x-rays would definitely wreck things. To compound the feeling of dread, the rain restarted, and thunder rumbled.

So I finished the lap, headed for the safety of my van and came up with an alternative plan.

The torture chamber

The torture chamber

I would go home, stick the bike on the turbo trainer and go for Sufferlandrian Knighthood. Ten Sufferfests, back to back, with only ten minutes rest between each.

Yes, that would do it. At home, in the dry, with a fridge full of Belgian beer nearby. Knighthood had been hovering on my horizon for a while. Time to get it done.

So I cued up ten of the best, threw a coffee down my neck and got started.

The menu

The menu

First out of the gate: Rubber Glove, The FTP Test video. I put this first so I could give the test a good hit and determine my power zones from the new Stages unit sitting on my crankarm. It’s a good workout on its own, and as an opener for a knighthood attempt, I figured the long, steady warm-up would be a good leg starter. And indeed it was. I wasn’t going at absolute full gas, but still came out with an FTP reading of around 230W. Quite respectable, considering I was only recently back from an enforced break and was about to embark on another nine videos.

Next Up: The Downward Spiral. A familiar workout, and the first Sufferfest I ever did. I can almost complete this one on auto-pilot, just shut off the brain and keep pedalling. Effort was at a nice steady I-think-maybe-I-can-do-this-for-eleven hours kinda pace

Then came A Very Dark Place. A video I’d not done before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and worried I might bite off more than I could chew and put myself in a hole. And indeed I did. I went ever so slightly too deep early on and spent the last half of the workout trying to stabilise myself. This made hour four – Hell Hath No Fury – quite tough. I started to feel like maybe I’d fall down before the halfway mark, but as I shovelled sushi into my mouth and tried desperately to keep my electrolytes up I gradually started to feel better. I’ve seen this in Four Hour MTB races before – the beginning of the fourth hour is spent fighting off despair but by 3:45 the power is back and the determination returns.

I added an extra fan for cooling during the break and got back on for Local Hero and reveled in the narrative, still shoveling food down and trying to dose out my effort in sensible chunks. In the break, I changed into a fresh pair of bibs and swapped shoes, two things that would make the next few videos far more bearable, and on to There is No Try.

This one is a bit of a blur. I don’t remember at all how I felt, which I assume means I was feeling pretty bloody terrible. My power was definitely starting to ebb, despite the number of gels, sushi rolls and jelly beans I was cramming in.

The Hunted came next, one of my favourites. The power was definitely down though, and at times all I had to offer was 20W per unit of RPE. So as the screen asked for a 9/10 effort, I duly pushed the counter to 180W and tried to hold it together for the interval. As the video howled at me, my dogs came in to check if I was OK, then immediately slunk back out, concluding that clearly I wasn’t.

Up next: The Wretched. And I was. I was drenched in sweat, crusted with salt, drooling energy gel everywhere and suffering hard, but this was the point where I realised I’d definitely make it. After this, only two videos to go. Angels, another favourite that I could do on mental cruise control, then the mighty Blender for a big sting in the tail. I could almost sing along with the soundtrack, though, as I started to feel a weird kind of joy. The climbs of Angels went by with only the merest hints of cramp and I swapped into a fresh jersey for the last push. As I chased Phillipe Gilbert up the Cauberg I figured the hell with it, and resolved to empty the tank completely over the next hour, and so I did, for the Glory of Sufferlandria.

The final three time-trial intervals had me grovelling on the stem, but I managed to lay everything out for the last one, pushing the power meter up over 400 towards the end of the interval, with gritted teeth and a wry grin. The interval finally ended and it was time to do the Chamois Dance. I’d finished. Ten Sufferfests back-to-back. Under 90 minutes rest all up, over eleven hours of actual pedalling, some very, very tired muscles and some incredibly sore patches of skin. I rolled the pedals through the cool-down interval and contemplated how it would feel to stop pedalling and not have to start again in ten minutes.

Pretty damn good, it turns out.

And I had a fridge full of Belgian beer.

Happy Birthday To Me.


The Reward


The result

The result


 Some advice for would-be knights and dames

  • Food. You will need lots of food. Make sure you have some variety, and choose something that won’t taste rotten after a few hours in the saddle
  • You’ll also need a lot of fluids, electrolyte+energy for preference
  • At least one change of kit is prudent. I went through about six jerseys and two pairs of bibs in my session
  • Watch your resting time – it’s easy to creep over the ten minutes, and you don’t want the minions rejecting your knighthood application because you sat around for too long between videos
  • Swapping shoes occasionally can really make the difference – giving the pressure points on your feet a bit of a break
  • Wear gloves. Even though you’re not hitting bumps, you’re still generating a lot of vibration and your hands will go numb.
  • Make sure your Garmin is fully charged, and ensure that the memory is good by checking the drive when it’s plugged in
  • Put your favourite videos towards the end. Jumping into an unfamiliar workout when tired could spell disaster
  • Have a domestique on hand to bring you drinks (if you can)
  • Don’t schedule in the two-hour painfest It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time. Unless you’re a proper hard case.
  • Turn off your phone
  • Do everything you can to make life bearable. A few extra minutes spent in prep will keep you out of the pit of despair. Details!
  • Have a towel on your handlebars
  • Consider chamois cream
  • Have a fridge full of Belgian Beer.
  • Beat Your Ass Today To Kick Theirs In Several Days’ Time. Recovery from this effort is not quick. Be prepared for a little pain afterwards. Don’t schedule anything for the following few days that can’t be done on a sofa.
  • Do it for Sufferlandria

Good luck!


One Thought on “A Knight’s Tale

  1. Pingback: Race recap: Tour of Sufferlandria, Stages 1-5 | The Crankset

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation